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Friends' News

When the 2024 XIX brood of cicada eggs were laid 17 years ago, most Middle Tennesseans were still calling them “17-year locusts”. But they’re not locusts, the blunt headed, orange eyed, clear winged bug is actually a Cicadoidea that can be found in fossilized rocks as far back as 59 million years ago.

Cicadas have wings but they fly like drunken aviators, banging into house walls and tree trunks. The most outstanding feature a cicada possesses is his ability to make noise. In wooded areas, a chorus of thousands of male Cicadas singing their mating calls can be heard by females a half mile away. Their high-pitched singing begins in early morning and increases with the heat of the day to volumes between 85 to100 decibels, which can be as loud as a chainsaw. Many scientists consider the cicada the loudest of all insects, Only the male sings and he does so by flexing his tympanic muscle that causes his tymbal parts to snap against each other, creating a series of clicks that are amplified by air spaces in his abdomen. Those individual clicks are repeated 400 times per second, making it sound to the human ear like a solid noise. As soon as the sun goes down the noisy cicadas go silent until sunrise.

When ground temperature reaches 64 degrees in the spring, periodical cicada nymphs emerge from underground after 13 or 17 years of drinking nourishing fluids from tree roots. The adults shed their exoskeleton and fly into surrounding trees to serenade potential mates with their earsplitting songs. In addition to the periodic 13 and 17-year cicadas, there’s also an annual cicada that stays underground 1 to 5 years and is the one we see every year in Middle Tennessee. The annual cicada is typically larger than the periodic version and has dark green eyes, while the smaller periodic version has eerie reddish-orange eyes.

Periodic cicadas aren’t seen everywhere, but in some forested areas, they may amass in hotspots of up to a million and a half per acre.

After mating, females use their ovipositor to split tree branches and deposit 200 to 400 eggs. In about eight weeks, the eggs hatch and drop to the ground where the larva digs into the earth to find tree roots that will provide food for the next 17 years. Fruit tree farmers usually wait till after the broods die out in late June to plant new trees to prevent female cicadas from splitting young fruit tree limbs to lay eggs that can kill newly planted trees. Normally, old established host trees aren’t permanently damaged by cicadas. Adult cicadas live about a month and subsist by sucking sap from bush and tree limbs with their labrum, which is a lip that’s has evolved to function as a drinking straw.

Cicadas are harmless to humans & pets. They can’t bite because they have no mouth, and they aren’t equipped with stingers. However, their blundering flying skills cause them to occasionally land in the hair of unsuspecting humans, causing a frenzy of swatting and shrieking. Their kamikaze-like habit of flying across highways results in their being splattered on car windshields. Once dried, the cicada entrails require intense scrubbing to remove them from victim vehicles and if not removed, can permanently damage auto paint.

This year the 13 and 17-year cicada broods are emerging simultaneously for the first time since Thomas Jefferson was around. The next time the two broods will emerge together will be in the year 2245.

By Chuck Neese for Friends of Harpeth River State Park.

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It was Labor Day 2011 at 7:45 in the evening when Harpeth River State Park Rangers got the call saying the historic Montgomery Bell Tunnel was on fire. When Rangers arrived, two gentlemen who’d been watching the flames from a distance reported the fire had been raging since 6:30 PM.

glowing embers of tunnel fire

How does a solid stone tunnel burn? During the spring of 2010, thirteen inches of rain inundated the Harpeth River Valley flooding homes and businesses and putting the 200-year-old tunnel underwater. The raging Harpeth waters ripped huge trees and brush from its banks, wedging the drifting wood in Bell’s Tunnel. Eighteen months later the floodwaters had receded, the driftwood was now dry and still crammed tightly in the tunnel, creating a dangerous fire threat.

On that 2011 Labor Day, something or somebody ignited the accumulated dry wood, and a strong draft rushing through the tunnel intensified the roaring flames. Bystanders could hear the hissing & popping of moisture trapped in the porous limestone that expanded fissures in the rock and loosened massive layers of stone that dropped from the tunnel ceiling with thunderous booms. Witnesses say the roar of the inferno was deafening & the intensity of the heat was so searing it could be felt a football field away.


By midnight, firemen had quelled the flames, and road department engineers assessed the damage to the county highway bridge over the intake side of the tunnel. The fire had cut off access to residents living north of the tunnel bridge, but by daybreak, officials pronounced the steel bridge safe to travel.

morning after the fire

Neighbors have long deemed the fire to be arson, but Parks Division investigators were

never able to establish a cause. Now, massive layers of fire-loosened limestone lay on the floor of the famous 1820’s-era tunnel, obstructing access and causing park management to post signs designating the tunnel as unsafe to enter. The well-engineered river diversion tunnel had remained largely unscathed by 200 years of flooding, freezing, and thawing, but the popular park attraction couldn’t withstand the fierce flames of undetermined origins.

today's collapsed ceiling

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Harpeth River State Park Manager Bill Morton was patrolling the parking lot at the Harris-Street Take Out on Labor Day when an anxious woman flagged him down. She reported her 13-year-old twin boys were paddling down the Harpeth in separate kayaks and were 2 ½ hours late for arrival at their Harris-Street pick up point.

Ranger Lisa Householder scoured park ramps and parking lots for signs of the boys and Morton drove down Cedar Hill Rd. to check downstream bridges but found no signs of the twins or their kayaks. Morton calculated the brothers had likely been distracted as they passed the big yellow sign announcing “LAST PULL OUT“ at Harris-Street Bridge and inadvertently paddled past where they were to be picked up.

To search down river, the Rangers launched the Park’s newly acquired motorized jet kayak and with Ranger Jacob Hardin at the controls, the speedy kayak raced downstream in search of the missing twins.

The Kingston Springs Fire Dept answered a 911 call and joined the search putting their drone in the air to scan the river. Although the twins had a 2½ hour lead on Hardin, his motorized kayak caught-up with the lost boys in just 30 minutes. Hardin called Morton to report he’d located the boys some 4 miles downriver from the Last Pull Out. The Fire Dept drone captured the moment Hardin tied the twins’ kayaks to his and towed the boys upstream to the Stringfellow Bridge where firemen loaded the twins and 3 kayaks on to the fire engine and trucked all back to the Harris Street Bridge for a reunion with the twins’ mom.

Friends of Harpeth River State Park purchased the motorized Mokai ES-Kape Kayak and donated the boat to the Park for use as a rescue vessel. The Mokai Kayak can go 60 miles on 4 gallons of gasoline at speeds of 20 MPH. The kayak is 12 feel long, weighs 224 lbs. and is powered by a 9.5 HP Kohler engine hooked to a jet drive system that functions well on the sometimes-shallow waters of the Harpeth.


Your donations and volunteerism allow the Friends group to make these kinds of valuable contributions to support Park safety, activities, education, and conservation. We hope you may be inspired to donate and/or get involved.

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